Leveraging Search to Build a Framework for Online Success
I’d like to share an outline for success built around search, which has helped me to deliver scalable, measurable, and manageable results -- even in a tough economy. I’ve had the opportunity to spend the past 5 years learning to succeed in a tough economic climate. By marketing products intended for those least likely to be online, let alone buy online – I have come to understand the challenges many of you face in the current recession. While competing against larger, better known and lower cost retailers -- everyday seemed like a tough economic climate. By applying insights derived through search, I’ve been able to increase online sales and conversions – despite larger competitors, scarce resources and ever changing obstacles. You can too.
Search Can Help You Compete and Win
By focusing on search, I began to look at the products I marketed differently. I began to see consumer markets differently. Search provided insight into online consumers that went beyond demographic characteristics and established retail categories. It offered an education on the way consumers perceive a particular problem, along with the solutions to their problems. Using this insight in targeting, messaging and the packaging of product offers enabled my company and clients to uncover new markets that were positioned away from larger competitors. It enabled clients to scale their business by attracting new customers, while making double-digit conversion rates possible.
Search can help you compete and win even in a difficult economic climate. Search engine marketing goes directly at the intentions of the consumer. Within search, you can match your offer with the intent of consumers as expressed within keywords and phrases. When you know the intent, your ability to convert visitors into customers is much higher. We can know how many people are looking for a particular product or a solution related to a product, and we can know this before launching a campaign or investing in new products and inventory. By marketing to this intent, we can reach consumers most likely to buy at a cost that’s significantly lower than other marketing channels. It’s as if you already have an idea of what customers want before they enter your store or showroom. Using this insight for targeting, messaging and testing enables you to compete against larger competitors who are unable or unwilling to implement intention-based marketing strategies.
Getting Profitable Results – Not Just Traffic
You want sales that are profitable – not just traffic. Traffic is not the main obstacle to succeeding online. The low conversion rates of most retailers (between 1 and 5%) point to a much greater challenge and opportunity. Low conversion rates indicate that traffic is being sent to a site that isn’t qualified – or that a site doesn’t match visitor expectations. Search allows us to drive only those consumers most likely to buy to our pages – and ad messaging enables us to further separate those willing to convert from those who are not. We can communicate an offer and what we want visitors to do before they click on a link and go to our site.
Intention-based marketing is about what consumers want and what we want consumers to do. By sending only highly targeted, pre-qualified shoppers to your site – you have an excellent test group around which you can optimize your landing page for conversions. If these visitors don’t convert at a higher rate than the rest of your site – you most likely have problems that relate to your site. The good news is that you can test for, isolate and reduce this friction by using search as a proving ground.
Developing a Strategic Process for Success
Intention-based marketing is not a tactic but a strategic process built around your offerings and capabilities. You create this process as a way to identify, reach and understand markets formed around intent. Within a process, we can successfully design, measure, manage and optimize campaigns around this intent. For Internet Retailers, success translates into profitable campaigns that can be reproduced and scaled – whether you have a staff of one or ten. Because we have different markets and resources, the process we develop evolves to reflect our unique needs and objectives over time. Without an initial process, we find ourselves unable to reach any degree of certainty regarding the tactics we apply. With a process, we are able to strategically optimize targeting, messaging and ad costs – as well as optimizing the process itself. What I will attempt to outline are some key elements in building this process.
Identifying Consumer Intent
First, we must identify consumer intent. We can explore consumer intent in relation to our products and brand with keyword tools available through Google Adwords, Yahoo and other online services. We can identify, measure and target established retail terms – or intentions that revolve around the lifestyles, problems, opportunities, and solutions addressed by your offer. This intent can be classified into three main types: Broad Intent, Purchasing-Centric Intent and Brand Intent.
If you’re selling a 7 inch portable television, broad intent might include searches for the terms “Electronic Gadgets” or “Father’s Days Gifts”. The search volume is high but the conversion rate is usually lower for these markets. For the same offer, purchasing-centric intent might include a search for a “7 inch portable tv”, a “portable television under $200” or a “handheld tv for camping”. The search volume is usually lower than broad intent but the conversion rates are generally higher. Brand intent occurs when consumers search for your URL, brand or product name. You want to see this market growing because it reflects the success of both online and offline marketing efforts. These consumers convert at a higher rate and, over time, will comprise the bulk of search sales – both paid and organic.
Developing Messaging Around Consumer Intent
Just knowing the intent of consumers isn’t enough to create profitable conversions. Messaging developed around consumer intentions plays a huge role in determining online success. By messaging to intentions, we can increase conversions and lower costs. We can also generate more activity in terms of brand intent – as branded terms become synonymous with a particular solution or desire. Like every campaign, well-crafted messaging helps get the attention and interest of the right people at the right time and guides them through our sales process. Testing and optimization will eventually reveal what messaging elements best meet the needs and expectations of a given market – resulting in more pre-qualified site visitors and sales. Messaging elements and variations developed around consumer intent can include Headlines, Unique Selling Propositions, Statements of Trust and Authority, Images and, of course, calls to action.
Using Paid Search as a Launching Pad
Paid search provides a quick and easy way to drive qualified visitors to your site. If highly targeted visitors don’t convert into sales profitably, broader markets are likely to perform even worse. Paid search enables us to test the size, preferences and responsiveness of intention-based markets cheaply and efficiently. Based upon the results of paid visitors, we’re able to establish “winners” and “losers” among messaging variations and search terms. This helps ensure optimized results across broader marketing campaigns – which can include search or other online channels. Paid search helps us create some degree of certainty and improvement prior to scaling up site traffic and ad spending.
Testing and Conversion Optimization
Using search as a testing tool, we can gain insights into which messaging variations work and which don’t for those most likely to buy when they arrive on your site. What works and doesn’t is defined through conversions. This insight is possible through multivariate testing tools where different combinations of messaging appear to visitors when they arrive on your page. Thus, rather than just guessing what consumers want when they arrive on a page, site visitors can play an active role in shaping and improving messaging and designing around conversions. Consumers that arrive on your site via paid search should be active participants in improving online performance.
Tracking and Measuring Results
Search enables us to track and measure traffic, costs and conversions with a precision that is impossible via offline channels. It’s is not, however, perfect. For most retailers, a majority of conversions happen via direct entries and brand searches. Advertising and other forms of brand exposures play a role in generating this activity. For web-only retailers, this is evident and measurable. For multi-channel retailers, however, this runs counter to the idea that their foundational channel – TV, catalog, print, etc. – is the only driver of online brand activity. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to set-up campaigns to measure and track this brand activity, while measuring the affects of campaigns on direct entries to your site.
Migrating Paid Search Results to Organic Search
Done well, a paid search campaign can serve as a framework that we can apply to other online channels. It helps to establish certainty and develop assets that can be used to scale results. The most obvious place to apply this framework would be organic search. What is learned in paid search can give retailers a blueprint for SEO activities. You’ll know the search volume and conversion rates of specific terms, and this can serve as a guide to allocating SEO design and link building resources. You will find that some campaigns that are less than profitable in paid search – because of competitors or other factors – can contribute positive results via organic search. You will also have landing pages optimized for conversions around this intent. What’s more, since your pages are designed around intent, you will have, by default, pages that get higher ranking within the search engines.
Applying Intention-based Marketing to Other Channels
Search isn’t the only way to build your sales profitably. In fact, some of you will find that the volume of traffic and the sales search provides is not enough to grow your business – especially if you have products and solutions that are so new and unique that little or no direct intent exists. Another disadvantage of focusing exclusively on search is that doing so ignores the need to establish awareness, interest and desire for your offer before consumers are willing to make a purchase. By reaching consumers at the early stages of the buying process – while they gather information and explore their options – we can leverage what we’ve learned through search to shape intent. When ready to buy, a retailer that’s engaged consumers early on in the process has an advantage. When consumers initiate purchasing-centric intent, they’re exposed to a retailer’s competitors. If you’ve already established interest, awareness, trust and authority, you’re much better positioned to capture these sales. Better still, by getting in front of your markets earlier in the sales process, consumers are much more likely to go directly to your site or search for your branded terms. Branded intent moves buyers away from your competitors, which is the direction you should want consumers to take. Applying intention-based marketing practices to display ads, we can target intent as it appears within content rather than just search. Focusing on intent and disqualifying non-buyers, we can leverage the authority of informational sites where the exposure rates are highest – enabling us to build our brands and scale our results.
Once again, I’d like to thank each of you for aspiring to find success online for your business. Even in a down economy, the Internet offers opportunities to compete and win – because it provides us with a powerful tool to better understand and add value to our customers. I will now answer any questions you might have.